Exercise Benefits Your Mental Health Too

There has been plenty of media coverage on the physical benefits of exercise and being physically fit. You might say it’s a “no-brainer” or common sense.

There may be a belief that one has to be an exercise fanatic in order to get positive emotional benefits. I’m sure most people have heard about the “runner’s high” that some marathon athletes may experience at some point after prolonged exertion.

Perhaps there is a misconception that to benefit emotionally from exercise that one has to be fanatical about it. Fortunately this is not the case. Numerous abstracts of professional journal articles were found at www.medscape.com that clearly support the benefits of exercise on psychological well-being.

Several studies found that moderate and low intensity aerobic exercise performed from 15 to 30 minutes at a minimum of three times a week reduced anxiety and depression even after one session but had significant benefit with more long-term regimens.

The studies suggest that these benefits are brought about by the changes in brain chemistry that elevate the naturally occurring “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. They also cite the possibility that the increase in body temperature and blood circulation in the brain impacts positively on the body’s stress-management response.

Not only can exercise be beneficial in promoting general emotional well-being, but it can also be used as a coping tool in a variety of circumstances. Regular exercise, because of the emotional benefits noted above, has been shown to be very beneficial in stress reduction and promoting relaxation.

Whenever you are experiencing strong feelings (such as anger, anxiety, depression or fear) try engaging in some form of physical exercise for at least 10 minutes such as a brisk walk, jumping on a trampoline, jogging, going up and down a flight of stairs, putting on the music and dancing, shadow boxing, jumping jacks, riding a bike, etc.

If you are still stressing over the intense emotion after that, try something else for another 10 minutes and then do a relaxing “cool down” activity such as walking at a slow pace, taking a bath or shower, taking some deep breaths (inhaling and exhaling slowly), or even just sitting quietly and concentrating on some positive thoughts or images in your head for a few more minutes.

Using the positive coping tool of physical exercise can have the added benefit of boosting your self-esteem when you recognize your accomplishment and you feel good about the healthy choice you have made … for yourself and those around you.

It seems that each beneficial aspect of exercise can produce another positive effect … kind of like a domino effect. There is also research supporting the use of exercise in the management of chronic pain, which would certainly produce emotional well-being improvements if physical pain is lessened or relieved.

Knowing that the positive benefits are not that difficult to attain might actually be convincing enough for a person to get motivated to start exercising. For a person with a mood disorder, this can seem like an unattainable goal, but remember to start out slowly. Set small goals for yourself to work your way toward the maximum benefit.

You don’t have to start out at the recommended level especially when you are new to exercise or haven’t been physically active for a while. Be sure to consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program so you can get recommendations on what exercises might be best for you or if there are any activities that you should avoid.

To keep yourself motivated to continue your program it is most helpful to get involved with some type of support. This could be a workout buddy, a personal trainer, a regular television program that is inspiring to you or nowadays there are online-support programs available to help you with both diet and exercise lifestyle changes.

My personal favorite and the one I have used with great success is www.sparkpeople.com, a free online service that provides exercise program guides from certified personal trainers as well as an online support community to help with questions and problems and provide motivational inspiration.

Often times the most difficult part of exercising is just getting started. But once you do it and you start to feel the benefits, it is easier to commit to it as a regular part of your life.

On those days where you just don’t feel like it just make yourself do “a few minutes.” This mental trick has helped me repeatedly. I often can get myself to start by saying I’ll just do 10 minutes. Then once I get started I almost always end up doing 30 minutes.

Choose any physical activity that gets your heart rate up that you can really enjoy. Change things up so you can keep from getting bored and to make your workout well-rounded to benefit all your muscle groups too.

When you do start an exercise program, make a mental commitment to do it for at least 30 days. Research has shown that this amount of time will greatly increase the probability that this healthy activity will become a positive lifestyle change.

You can do it.